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Calgary committee nixes a policy on election campaign behaviour

Calgary city councillors scuppered a prior policy outlining campaign conduct of councillors outside their wards in the upcoming municipal election.

It was defeated in a 4-6 vote at the Priorities and Finance committee meeting Tuesday.

It’s virtually the same policy that was introduced in 2016 (prior to 2017 municipal election) with minor tweaks to update it with current language.

In 2016, it was brought forward to deal with potential confusion over candidates and issues because of recent ward boundary changes.

There was another recent ward boundary change in Calgary.

It’s not a new policy brought forward specifically this year to prevent certain members of council from campaigning around the city for positions such as mayor.

“This policy was not written with the mayoral race in mind. It was purely geared towards changes in ward boundaries,” said City of Calgary ethics adviser, Emily Laidlaw.

Laidlaw said repeatedly that it’s written for a very narrow window where a councillor could wedge themselves into very ward-specific issues outside their own area without another councillor’s knowledge. That could be at private events, community association meetings, etc.

Still, she said the general principles could still apply to the mayoral race from an ethics perspective.  

Coun. Jeromy Farkas stumped in council chambers for a spell before requesting – for a second time – a clear answer. He said he’s “asking for votes in every part of every ward,” in his run for mayor.

“What business would it be of other councillors what my campaign plan and schedule is?”

Laidlaw agreed – it shouldn’t be applied to the mayoral race.

Courtesy and personal responsibility – oh, and political weaponry

Most councillors agreed this should be left to personal responsibility and common courtesy.

“I remember when this whole notion came forward, and it was really as a common courtesy if another councillor was going to do business in another ward, that it’s just a courtesy they would let the councillor know,” said Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart.

“But, it’s evolved into quite a manifesto here, in a way.”

Coun. Colley-Uruquhart said it was originally brought in to deal with a couple of specific incidents.

Coun. Ward Sutherland said the document has become a “political weapon already.”

“We’re now in a world of, ‘I will question every single word and interpret it any way I want,’” he said.

Still, Sutherland suggested, if approved, that it have changes to explicitly indicate it didn’t apply to the mayoral race.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who has also been widely rumoured to be making a Calgary mayoral run, said she wouldn’t support the policy.

“I think anyone who’s running for council should have the wherewithal to practice basic decency and advise colleagues,” she said.

“I think we just have to be good people and I know that sounds ridiculously Pollyanna, but a policy is not going to help us if someone wants to go out and not abide by it or spread mistruths.”

The policy was voted down at committee. A request was made, however, to have it forwarded to the next full meeting of Calgary city council.